Dementia is one of the most common conditions that we find in adults, usually in a later stage of life. According to the World Health Organisation dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – in which there is deterioration in cognitive function (ie, the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from normal ageing.
It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language and judgement. Consciousness is not affected. The impairment in cognitive function is commonly accompanied, and occasionally preceded, by deterioration in emotional control, social behaviour, or motivation.
Signs and symptoms
At an early stage the most common signs and symptoms are losing track of time, getting lost in familiar places and becoming forgetful.
In the middle stage of dementia, the person gets more forgetful – especially of recent events – as well as people’s names. They also get lost at home, change their behaviour, have more difficulty communicating and need help with personal care.
As dementia progresses and gets to a later stage, the person becomes completely reliant on others. They are not aware of space and time, do not recognise family and friends, can’t move properly and can become aggressive.
Types of dementia
There are different types of dementia. The most common and well known is Alzheimer’s Disease. Other types include vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and a group of diseases that cause the degeneration of the frontal lobe of the brain.
Different types of dementia can co-exist and the differentiation of them is not always clear.
Dementia and hearing loss
The scientific community has been working on possible links between hearing loss and dementia. A study by Chin-Mei Liu, in Taiwan, concluded that hearing loss was positively associated with risk of dementia. This was especially so in patients aged 45-64.
Another study made in France by Professor Helene Amieva found an increased risk of disability and dementia in those with hearing loss and, in men only, an increased risk of depression. These associations were not found in participants using hearing aids.
How hearing aids can help
Research conducted by the University of Exeter and King’s College, London, presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles, concluded that people who wear hearing aids for age-related hearing problems maintain better brain function over time than those who do not.
In this study, people using hearing aids had faster reaction times than those who didn’t, which might indicate better concentration. Being able to stay tuned into conversations and day-to-day life is key in reducing the feelings of isolation that we know many people with dementia experience.
Our hearing is vital to our wellbeing as it allows us to stay in touch with what is going on and establish relationships with others. Being able to delay the progress of dementia by wearing hearing aids shows just how important our hearing is to us.